Ancient Iceman Had Modern Disease

by | February 29, 2012 at 7:02 PM | General

(South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology)

The 5,300-year-old ice mummy nicknamed “Oetzi,” who was discovered frozen in the Eastern Alps in 1991, appears to have had the oldest known case of Lyme disease, according to new genetic analysis.

Researchers from Europe and the U.S. have sequenced his genome, or complete DNA, and discovered he suffered many of the same ailments that people today encounter. In addition to having Lyme disease, he was genetically predisposed to heart disease. He also probably had brown eyes, belonged to blood group O and was lactose intolerant, according to the journal Nature Communications.

Analysis also suggests he was about 45 years old, 5-foot-5 and had been sick several times in the months before he died. Scientists think that despite his evident health problems, he was killed by an arrow shot into his left shoulder.

Researchers studied uncontaminated DNA by taking a sample from Oetzi’s hip bone.

The discovery of the traces of Lyme disease within the sample taken from Oetzi still needs to be confirmed, according to Dr. Steven Schutzer, an immunologist at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School. However, it is considered an “intriguing investigative lead” that will help researchers adapt a very targeted approach going forward.

The first case of Lyme disease in the United States was found in Connecticut in the mid-1970s.  It is transmitted by ticks in North America and Eurasia.

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